Creating a DE&I program is similar to the chicken and the egg problem. Which comes first—diversity or inclusion? And can one even be successful without the other? These are questions Chief Diversity Officers, discussed during a recent BlogHer and Philip Morris International Inclusive Future event (seen in the video below). On one hand, diversity ensures people get the opportunity to be in the room, but what good is diversity if people don’t feel empowered to be themselves in the workplace? Below, Kamela Forbes, Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Pride Global; Nickoria Johnson, Partner and Chief Diversity Officer at Credera; and Silke Muenster, Chief Diversity Officer at Philip Morris International share their thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and strategic steps companies can take to do it right.
What’s key to understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion?
SM: Diversity is all about numbers. Inclusion, on the other hand, is the key that unlocks the full potential of diverse organizations. Building a workforce reflective of the world’s diversity is a relatively simple exercise as it can be achieved by having the right processes in place—but it’s a fruitless one if companies neglect the importance of ensuring every employee feels included. Inclusion requires behavior change which will always take time. That’s why leaders must focus on creating inclusive, psychologically safe environments where every employee feels valued, respected, and able to speak up and be heard. This, in turn, will enable them to create, innovate, and contribute their best work. Everyone benefits from this—the company, the employees, the consumers, and the wider society.
NJ: Diversity is the presence of a difference in a given setting. Diversity is all about having more differences—not just race and gender, but it’s also all the things that make us different such as our experiences, our thoughts, our backgrounds, where we lived, and who our friend group is, which brings different thoughts to the table. There’s a statement about inclusion: It’s the quality of the human experience. Inclusion used to be inviting you to dance at the party, but it’s not just that anymore. It’s about how well people feel they belong and how well they feel they’re using their gifts and their talents in ways that can help add value. It’s also how welcomed they feel in spaces within the workplace.
KF: Diversity is the makeup of your workforce demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, age range, sexual orientation, veteran status, etc. Inclusion is the measure of belonging, respect, and support that one feels like an individual in a company that enables diversity to thrive. The key to understanding the difference is knowing that diversity is a quantitative measurement while inclusion is a qualitative measure. It’s fairly easy to have employees self-identify their demographics, but measuring inclusion is a lot more difficult. It requires the person attempting to measure inclusion to have empathy and understand that every person’s feelings should be validated regardless of if you agree with them or not.
Diversity and inclusion are both crucial to have in any business. Do you think one can be successful without the other?
SM: No. Diversity without inclusion is like expecting a LEGO set to build itself. The fact is, the capabilities of diverse organizations can only be fully realized if each employee is given the motivation and the safe space in which to collaborate, ideate, speak up without fear of reprisal, and reach their full potential. For this to be achieved, an inclusive environment that allows everyone to be their best, true selves is paramount. At the same time, you need diversity to bring different points of view, only then an inclusive culture can help you to leverage it.
NJ: You can move forward at a company without diversity because representation is the thing people look for. But in terms of diverse thinking, then I don’t think you can because if you bring the same people around with the same background, the same skill set, the same thinking you’re going to produce something that’s not innovative. For companies these days, we have to remain competitive and the best way to do that is to think differently and you do that more successfully when you have diversity.
In the time of this great resignation, though, inclusion is what people are craving. They’re craving to be in the workplace and to be a part of something bigger than just showing up and doing their job. They want connection and they want to feel like they aren’t “the only” in spaces. They want to be able to show up as their best selves and to do that means we have to provide those ways to bring people together and provide a community. So, if I had to make a choice as a business person, I would need to look at it both equally because if I don’t have inclusion in a place where people want to show up to work, it doesn’t matter if I have this highly competitive thinking. Both of them have to coexist.
KF: Absolutely not! Or at least not for long. Diversity focuses on bringing people who come from different backgrounds with different experiences and who look different together to create a workplace but by nature, it’s harder for people who are different to connect easily until they find commonalities between themselves. In order to retain a diverse employee base, inclusion needs to be incorporated simultaneously. All employees need to feel like they belong and that they can be free to be themselves, share their thoughts and ideas, and be accepted regardless of their backgrounds, and unless diversity and inclusion exist together, you’ll see a revolving door of talent.
In what ways can business leaders achieve a diverse workforce? How can they achieve an inclusive workforce?
SM: It begins, simply, with the recognition that narrow-mindedness can only serve a narrow demographic. Leaders who truly want their companies to provide purpose and value to the whole of society must acknowledge the rich diversity of the consumers they’re working for—and build a diverse workforce that represents them. Leaders then play a critical role in cultivating an inclusive environment. They can do this by acting curious, asking questions, listening to the opinions of those with different perspectives, and demonstrating humility. Speaking candidly about their own vulnerabilities and mistakes will instill a similar willingness in their employees to boldly pursue their objectives—without fear of failure.
NJ: Companies are going to always have to show up in places to attract talent. Unless you’re a giant brand where people are coming to you, you have to be really intentional about showing up and building a brand in those spaces, where folks from different walks of life are. I encourage companies to think outside the box and not just use LinkedIn as their primary sourcing strategy. Show up and add value and that will allow people to see that you’re genuine in what you’re doing. In terms of inclusion, the biggest step is listening to your employees and finding out what’s important to them. When we started actually listening to the voices of the communities we’re trying to serve, we found out we need to be doing X, Y, and Z. So, I would encourage other companies to first pause what they’re doing and listen to what your employee communities are saying.
KF: The best way for business leaders to achieve a diverse workforce is to first make a commitment to DE&I. This means that they should hire someone internally or a consultant who can guide them in the process to implement DE&I best practices and stay committed to the cause. The next step is to ensure that the entire organization is aware of the initiative, you have buy-in from the top leadership in the company, and DE&I is modeled from the top-down. It takes an entire company to be on board for DE&I initiatives to be successful. Talent acquisition and hiring managers need to be held accountable for increasing diverse pipelines and diverse hires by having KPIs tied to performance bonuses for example. But attracting and getting diverse talent to accept an offer is only part of the battle. The bigger and more important part is keeping them happy there and this is where inclusion comes in. To achieve an inclusive workforce, policies and procedures need to be put in place to ensure that people can show up as their true selves at work and be accepted, heard, celebrated, developed, and promoted. This can be as simple as having a relaxed dress code so employees can express themselves through clothing and hair choices, to more concentrated efforts such as bias training and equity programming. These can all be achieved with the help of a well-funded DE&I team, employee resource groups, and a management team committed to their DE&I goals.
What are some mistakes companies make when trying to create a diverse or inclusive workforce?
SM: One common mistake would be to downplay diversity and inclusion as a ‘nice-to-have’. Simply put, it’s a must-have for businesses in 2022. Seeing diversity and inclusion as a responsibility of your DE&I or HR department is another mistake, in order to be successful everybody needs to feel responsible. Also, there’s a tendency for people to think that diversity and inclusion are about everyone being nice to each other. More pertinently, it’s about creating room for people to speak up, be open and honest, and be able to raise difficult issues. This requires companies to encourage the right discussions in an environment of psychological safety. These conversations don’t require everyone to be an expert, but rather a willing participant who’s comfortable getting uncomfortable in helping to shape a better workplace for everyone.
NJ: One of the biggest mistakes is not having that true commitment to the full scope of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I would also say that not listening to your employees is a big deal because it leads to the mentality that you’re not really seeking to help. And then I would say, trying to do everything yourself is another issue that companies have. I’m not saying you have to have a big huge DE&I budget but for some of the tougher conversations, and in some of the places you might not be an authority figure, bringing in some experts to help accelerate what you’re doing is really important.
KF: One of the most common mistakes companies make is creating a DE&I strategy that is not comprehensive. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are levers that all need to be pulled at the same time. If a company is solely focused on diversity, for example, it will mostly be successful at bringing in employees from different backgrounds to the detriment of those employees ultimately leaving because they don’t feel included or that they belong there. Another big mistake is a company talking the talk but not walking the walk. Employees and stakeholders will eventually be able to tell if one’s DE&I efforts are performative, and the repercussions are huge as clients and employees today are wanting to do business with or work for companies with the same mission and values as they hold and are holding companies accountable to advance DE&I.
What role does a growth mindset play in the activation of D&I?
SM: A growth mindset plays a vital role because it encourages people to prioritize progress and meaningful change over silos, comfort zones, and status quos. At Philip Morris International (PMI), we’re transforming our entire business model to deliver a smoke-free future. The only way we can reach such a monumental public health milestone is by meeting the diverse needs of our consumers. Therefore, it’s essential we foster diverse teams of inquisitive people who are eager to broaden their understanding of those who are different from them. Open-minded people working to overcome challenges and develop solutions together will help weave diversity and inclusion into the core of our ethos and deliver the ambitious targets we’ve set.
NJ: People that focus on DE&I always have to be continuous learners. In our landscape, that means attending webinars, educating myself, getting certifications, and being really intentional about that. From a business perspective, it’s important to understand society is changing. We’re becoming more multicultural, more focused on societal impact and if that’s happening in the world, we have to be able to change our mindset as companies on how we approach customers and how we show up in the marketplace.
KF: A growth mindset is essential to the progress of DE&I. For starters, having a growth mindset helps reduce the stereotyping that is the main cause of the lack of diversity in candidate pipelines and hires by talent acquisition teams and hiring managers. Translating a growth mindset to inclusion, if a company has a growth mindset culture, employees would be more open to gathering more information or getting to know coworkers better before making judgments thus leading to more feelings of trust and belonging which fosters more collaboration among teams and employees and in turn positively impacts a company’s ROI.
What are tangible indicators of D&I progress in the workforce?
SM: Tracking diversity within a company is, obviously, the easy part. Retaining talent is one of the greatest indicators a company is succeeding in its drive to foster an inclusive environment and a sense of belongingness. Analyzing the qualitative data and setting targets are important components of tracking progress in this area. As I always say, what gets measured gets done. At PMI, for example, we previously set a goal to achieve at least 40 percent female representation in management roles by the end of 2022—and I’m delighted that we’ve reached that target ahead of time. Our next gender representation goal is to achieve at least 35 percent of women in senior roles by 2025. Recently, we were also re-certified as a global equal-salary organization—verifying that we pay women and men equally for equal work in the 90-plus markets the company operates. And last year, we embarked on a year-long exploration of how we can better measure inclusion, called ‘Inclusive Future’. This culminated in the publication of an extensive, cutting-edge study, carried out independently by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). The IMD examined a broad range of qualitative and quantitative methods and tools businesses can use to measure inclusion and identify which interventions are most likely to achieve progress.
NJ: Representation and then there’s listening to your employees. Your employee engagement surveys are great tools to know whether you’re providing that inclusive environment and whether you are perceived as really doing a great job at forwarding and providing equity.
KF: There are several things a company can track to measure their DE&I progress. First, track EEOC (equal employment opportunity commission) data on a regular basis to evaluate your progress or lack thereof. Second, tracking the growth of your diverse pipeline will indicate your D&I progress. Third, measure the participation and attendance of employees at DE&I events and programs. Fourth, measuring the level of inclusion and belonging your employees feel is super important in tracking progress, this is best done through employee engagement surveys.
In what ways do you see D&I efforts changing in the next 5, 10, or 15 years?
SM: For too long, the importance of establishing diversity and inclusion has been ignored—not just within organizations, but throughout society. Recent events—from the Covid-19 pandemic to the stark racial injustices we’ve witnessed around the world—have underlined the stark chasms and inequalities that exist. In response, discussions around equity and justice in our society have been broader and more impassioned than ever before. This is a giant step in the right direction. Businesses have a duty to heed the calls of society and lead by example. And I believe, in the next five to 15 years, leaders will accelerate a radical shift in workplace cultures—where diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity become the norm, not the exception. That is my hope, but also my expectation.
NJ: The person that leads our LGBTQ ERG says “I want it to be normal to show up and be out at work.” Even though we’re really intensely involved in providing awareness and support, I hope things normalize over time to where we’re not necessarily talking about how we best care for our employees because we’ve done such a good job in this DE&I space that we’ve really impacted lives, changed hearts and we’re in a much better place.
KF: Over the next few years I see a senior-level position for DE&I as a mandatory hire. Every company should have it as a goal and part of its mission and broader strategy. As we continue to see the shift to a more remote workforce, I also see technology playing more of a role in our DE&I efforts. The Great resignation will also have a role in shaping DE&I focuses more on upskilling and reskilling employees allowing for more lateral moves in companies as well as internal promotions to help with retention efforts. Longer-term as the younger more open-minded generations who’ve been exposed to and interacted with more people of different backgrounds become the bulk of the workforce, I see the focus of DE&I being less on race/gender/gender identity and being focused on other dimensions of diversity.
Silke, what are some effective ways majority groups can demonstrate allyship toward minorities in the workforce?
One powerful act of allyship is speaking up if you witness a microaggression or unfair treatment of a colleague—because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, ability, or any other diverse characteristic. Another effective action is to explore the subject of unconscious bias to address any hidden beliefs that may impact our perceptions of others. This is an important step to ensuring everyone has the freedom to be themselves—without fear of judgment or discrimination.
At PMI, we support the growth and advancement of all employees through personalized development plans and access to learning opportunities. We have also launched a series of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)—covering race, ethnicity, cultural diversity and inclusion, LGBTQ+ inclusion, gender equality, and disability inclusion. These platforms provide opportunities for employees to get involved, cultivating communities of belongingness, support, and inspiration.
Through initiatives like these, companies can help everyone become informed allies of marginalized colleagues, driving cultural and behavioral change within their office walls—and far beyond them too.
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.